Earlier this year, I made a promise – to take better care of myself. You know that self-care stuff? I’m not so good at it.
There are many things I’m working on that fall under the “self-care” umbrella. One of the most important, yet basic, ones is to cook real food, more often. The kitchen is not my favourite place to be, but I need to become a bit more friendly with it. It’s important for my health, and also my wallet. On top of all the ways this benefits me personally, I’m learning how it can be important for my community.
I don’t usually write about social issues here, so I won’t go into all of the social/political/economic ramifications of this. You’re better off talking to the real experts about all of that. But let’s think about this for a minute.
Take hot sauce. I use hot sauce just about every day. Instead of buying the cheap, popular, overly-processed stuff from the grocery store……what about buying hot sauce from a local producer? This keeps my dollars circulating in my own community, which helps us all to thrive. It is often the healthier choice too – there usually aren’t a lot of crappy, chemical-y ingredients that I can’t even pronounce in it.
So when I found out about Niagara Presents, I was intrigued.
Located in Beamsville, Niagara Presents is a great example of social enterprise here in Niagara. Owned by the non-profit organization, Niagara Peninsula Homes, Niagara Presents was established in 1997, and has been helping in the community since then. There is a great video on their website that explains their history, and I strongly urge you to watch it. It’s a wonderful story of people responding to the needs in their region. Currently, Niagara Presents provides co-operative food product development, marketing, and distribution support to independent Niagara based growers and processors of specialty foods.
So, for keeping my money in the community, Niagara Presents fits the bill perfectly. First, they have many delicious creations to choose from. Second, by purchasing them, I can help my neighbour’s business to prosper. Third, I have some tasty products to use. And fourth, these things just might make food preparation easier. For a Kitchen Klutz like me, that is a huge bonus.
Recently, I met with Betty Ann Baker, the Executive Director of Niagara Presents (above left). She gave me a tour of their facility, and shared some of the stories behind their products and the people who created them.
In addition to tasty salsa, hot sauce, jellies, and preserves, they make gift baskets for a wide range of budgets. Wedding and party favours can also be ordered, and I think that’s a fantastic idea. There are lots of weddings held here in Niagara – what better gift for guests than to take home some of these yummy, locally produced goodies?
The day I was there, gift basket production was in full swing.
Some lucky people are in for a real treat.
I left that day with a variety of products to try out in the kitchen.
I was excited, but a little overwhelmed. Good cooks would be bursting with ideas for how to use these unique things. Given that my skills are limited, how on earth was I going to use them?
So I started simply. Ken, of course, knew exactly what he was going to do with the Concord Grape Jelly, and he forbade me to even think of using it myself. He adores grape jelly with peanut butter, so sandwiches had to be made. But this just proves my point from earlier – we swap out generic grape jelly from the grocery store with a locally made version. I also started using Billie’s African Hot Sauce in place of my usual hot sauce. Boy, it’s good. The heat, the flavour….it’s taken my usually boring scrambled eggs to a whole new level. Next, I tried their Inferno Red Pepper Jelly mixed with cream cheese on toast for a simple breakfast. It would also be great on crackers for a snack.
After these small successes, I started to get more confident. With a bit of research, I came up with several ways to use the rest of the products. I’ll share these ideas with you, but keep in mind that food photography is a whole new world for us. You won’t see pics like ours in Gourmet magazine. Well, not yet, anyway.
Their Berries Dipped in Chocolate Liqueur Sauce is the most glorious thing I’ve sampled in a long time. I’m serious. I like starting my day with it mixed in yogurt. I could also end my day with it too. Heck, mid-day sounds pretty darn amazing as well. You definitely have to try this one.
I love cheese, and though Brie is more of a treat than a regular occurrence, the Raspberry Cabernet Infusion was really nice on it. I think I’ll drizzle lots more next time.
For main courses, we tried a few options.
The first was using Billie’s African Hot Sauce again. This recipe is from Niagara Presents – their Pepper Braised Chicken Thighs. The degree of heat used in the recipe was perfect for me, but a bit much for Ken, so adjust for your spiciness needs accordingly. The thing I love about Billie’s Sauce is that it adds flavourful heat. Know what I mean?
We also used the Niagara Peach Salsa on some fish. This, my friends, was a complete surprise to me. One of my own food preferences is that fruit should not go with fish or meat of any kind. I have had many people try to convince me otherwise, but what can I say. It’s just one of my “things”, so I was skeptical about this.
Surprisingly, I was won over. We are trying to add more fish into our diet after having some incredible fish in Florida, and this salsa perked it up nicely. A touch of sweet, a touch of heat. What could be better?
The final main course was Ken’s creation. He used the Inferno Red Pepper Jelly to make a sort of sweet and sour sauce. Ken is so much better at playing in the kitchen than I am. He looked at a couple of recipes online, then just created his own thing out of his head. How I wish I had that gift.
But that’s not all he whipped up. He used the Cranberry Rum Sauce to make a sort of glaze for pork.
I think I’m abandoning my “no fruit with meat” rule.
There were so many easy options for dessert too. Any of the fruit toppings would be a simple, tasty way to dress up ice cream.
Or cheesecake. Look at all of the berries in each sauce!
Then we tried a simple dessert of sponge cake and whipped cream with a variety of toppings. No, I didn’t make the sponge cake, I bought it. I’m no baker.
We used their Peach & Orange Liqueur Sauce, the Raspberry Cabernet Infusion, and the the Apple Pie Jam. I sampled them all, and though they were all tasty, I loved the Apple Pie Jam one. Jam is definitely meant for more than toast.
I’ve learned so much in the writing of this post. I discovered a successful local social enterprise, and learned a bit about the Niagara Presents story. I began to understand more about how my food spending (and my spending habits overall) can contribute to the success of my community. I experimented with some of their yummy products. I even gained a bit of hope – a Kitchen Klutz like me can make an easy, tasty meal with the right ingredients.
I also learned that fruit with meat ain’t so bad after all.
Have you tried any of the Niagara Presents products? Do you have any other recipe ideas for me?
**The Niagara Presents products used in this post were very generously provided. **